An actor and television director who achieved his greatest success towards the end of his career, Colasanto was born January 19, 1924 in Providence, Rhode Island; he was one of seven children. He attended Providence’s Central High School but did not graduate because of World War II, as he joined the Navy.
After being discharged at the end of the war, Colasanto returned to Rhode Island to finished his high school education, then went on to Bryant College, earning money for tuition and board by working construction jobs. Then, after graduating from Bryant in 1949, he worked as an accountant for an oil company.
At the age of 28, he saw Henry Fonda perform on Broadway and that influenced his acting career. He joined a theater company in Phoenix, Arizona before moving back to New York, where he performed in off-Broadway productions and appeared in TV Commercials.
In 1965 he relocated to Hollywood and began to appear on TV, were he also made his mark as a TV director. Eventually, he directed over 100 episodes of TV series in the 1960s and 70s, and was in two most memorable film roles, one as being the boxing manager in John Huston’s “Fat City” and the other as the mob boss in Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”.
Colasanto was primarily a dramatic actor, but the producers of the TV comedy “Cheers” (1982) cast him as Ernie “Coach” Pantusso, the absent-minded, dumb but lovable bartender. The role made him famous and he earned an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series each of the three years that he appeared on the show.
Sadly, at the height of his fame, he died from a heart ailment at his home in California on February 15th, 1985.
Much beloved by the cast, the picture of the Apache warrior Geronimo that Colasanto had kept in his dressing room as a good luck charm, was hung on the wall of the primary set of “Cheers”.
The picture was not only a tribute to “Nicky”, as he was known to his friends and co-workers, but was a reminder that “Coach” was still around.
On the final episode of “Cheers”, eight years after his death, Nicky Colasanto was acknowledged when series star Ted Danson in the final scene, straightens the Geronimo picture before walking off stage for the last time.